Cricket pitches are found on most ovals in cricket-playing nations. Pitches are turf at the start of a match, but by the end of the match either end of it will have two large marks on it, usually with less or no turf than the rest of the pitch. This is mainly because bowlers have been scuffing their feet there while bowling.
The pitch is put smack in the centre of the oval, although there may be two or three pitches on either side of the regular pitch. On the days before match day, batsmen and bowlers may use these as practise pitches, and bowl and bat with nets. A cricket pitch is exactly 22 yards long, or just over 20 metres. If a ball is bowled at a batsman at 130 km/h (which is about the average speed for faster bowlers), or roughly 80 mph, it gives batsmen less than half a second to react. If the pitch were any longer, the game would be so much easier for batsmen.
The stumps are places right in the centre of the pitch at either end, 20 yards from one another. A painted white line, called a crease, is painted along the line of the stumps and extending 4'4" from the middle stump to form what is known as the 'bowling crease'.
Another two creases are painted as guides for where a bowler is allowed to put his feet when delivering. The first is painted a full size bat's length, plus half a bat's length, away from and parallel to the bowling crease. It's called the batting crease, or popping crease, and is 12' long. Batsmen must be behind this line if the ball hits the stumps at that end, or the batsman is out. (Exception: Being bowled out.) The other one extends 4 feet perpendicular from the batting crease and so that it intersects the end of the bowling crease. This is called the return crease.
To bowl a 'legal' ball in cricket, a bowler must have some part of his front foot behind the popping crease, and his back foot must not be touching the return crease. The exceptions are:
- when a bowler's front heel is not grounded, and the rest of his foot is just over the popping crease. If his heel had been grounded it would have been a legal delivery, so this is also legal.
- when a bowler's front foot is touching or over the return crease. This is common for left-hand bowlers bowling on the left-hand side of the stumps, called 'Left-arm around the wicket'.
- when a bowler's back heel is not grounded, and the rest of his foot is just inside the return crease. As explained above, his heel would have touched the return crease, making it illegal. However, in this case, no part of his foot touches the return crease, so this is legal.
If the delivery is illegal, it is called a no-ball. A batsman cannot go out bowled, caught, stumped or LBW, and an extra run is added to the batting team's score.